Saturday, December 26, 2009

Balls of Fire

Merry Xmas, Free World, enjoy the last days of the year pondering the 23 year-old idiot who tried to explode a Delta plane going to Detroit.
It turns out that:
1. His own father alerted the US Embassy in Nigeria about his son's extremist activities.
2. He was on a counterterrorism list of names (just 500,000 people on that list) but not on the no-fly list.
3. He's got a 2 year visa to the US, which the article points out IS STILL VALID.
Have a pleasant stay in the US, you asshole.
4. He badly burned his balls in the attempt, which is the fittingest punishment imaginable. Couldn't think of a better one, being dragged off the plane with his pants down and his balls in a state of utter chicharrón. Good. Total humiliation. Serves him right, for doing dirty work for evil, cowardly, inhuman bastards.
5. Bravo to the passengers for averting tragedy, saving their own asses and not tearing that idiot to shreds. He ended up sitting in first class, wearing handcuffs.
We are, after all, civilized people.
6. Immediately a new set of inane rules is issued about passenger restrictions on planes.  How about restricting dangerous passengers BEFORE they get on the planes instead? Instead of confiscating my lip gloss, how about you freaking find the asshole with explosives tied to his ass? Amsterdam? WTF?
What good can it possibly do to prevent the passengers from standing up the last hour of the ride or curtail their amount of luggage, if they are fucking terrorists?

If It's Broke, Fix It.

The more I read about the war on drugs, the less I understand why nobody has noticed that it is not working. How long is it going to be until somebody up there in government or think tanks, or wherever policy gets made, gets off their moral high horse and decides to change the rules of engagement? Tens of billions of dollars of drug profits are swimming around the underground economy, not to mention the horrifying revenge violence and the cost in human lives. In Mexico 15,000 people have died from drug related violence. Isn't this worse than terrorism?
Meanwhile, those who buy drugs continue paying way too much for shitty product. They don't seem to make the connection between what they put up their noses and the evil chaos it comes from.
Legalize the stuff already.

Census Madness

I was reading an article in the NY Times about Evangelical churches helping the US Census count illegal immigrants and the comments section was unbelievable. Hysterical anger about illegals being counted. Mostly, the screaming was along the lines of "go back to your own country, you parasites".
People are under the wrong impression that only citizens get counted. Everybody needs to be counted. That is precisely the reason for a Census.
I find it amazing that these hateful, spiteful Americans conveniently forget why immigrants are here. They are hired by people who are also breaking the law. How come nobody is outraged by the employers, but everyone wants to chase out the employees? Racism, pure and simple. And cowardly, to boot. So this is what I had to say:

Wow! Tell us how you really feel about the hard working people who do the jobs that American businesses are not willing to give to legal citizens because the salaries and benefits would become too expensive to pay. People will continue to come here illegally as long as American businesses continue to hire them under the table. If you want that to stop, you should penalize those who hire illegals first.
But you are all a bunch of hypocrites. Why don't you show the same outrage about the corporations who profit from hiring illegals?
Who is going to pick your strawberries, and slaughter your pigs and clean your toilets without charging 7 bucks an hour and expecting insurance and a 401K? Who, do you think, helped clean up after hurricane Katrina? Do you know what FEMA stands for in Louisiana, Senator Vetter?
Find Every Mexican Available.
The Census is a count of the people who are living in the US, legally or not. It is important to know who lives here, because that is REALITY, not IDEOLOGY. And as long as the conditions are here for people to come looking for a better life, they have every right to organize and every right to benefit from being counted.
Meanwhile, that I can buy churros on the street outside a NY subway station is to me, a sure sign of the wonderful contribution of immigrants to this land. To judge from the brisk business going on, I am not the only one. 

Friday, December 18, 2009

Jesus, Mary and Joseph!

The news is that some groups consider this ad blasphemous. I think that is the least of its troubles. The blasphemy is the non-sequitur of the writing. Jesus was born because of the Census? He was born on a burro? And I thought it was because of the immaculate conception. But what do I know? Are all Christians familiar with the  Roman Census business? It was news to me, but then again, what do I know.
Still, it doesn't work as written:
This is how Jesus was born.
Joseph and Mary participated in the Census. Don't be afraid.   
Latino thinking in a nutshell: I participate in the Census, I get crucified like Jesus. Thanks, but no thanks.
Am I nuts or the entire Jesus situation just adds to the feeling of fear and persecution?
If this is the best that the National Association of Elected Latino Leaders can come up with, perhaps we need to elect us a new set of Latino leaders.
I am surprised the Census bureau approved of this. I worked for the Census recently. I can tell you there are hundreds of eyes scrutinizing every word related to the Census.
I can't fathom what happened.

A Pangram

I didn't know these things existed, but boy, are they useful.
A pangram is a sentence that includes all the letters and grammatical possibilities of a given alphabet. It is helpful to language students, but I think even more helpful to graphic and type designers, so they can see how letters look, feel and work. Thus, a Spanish pangram is:
La cigüeña gigante bebió ocho copas de whisky, más quince jarras llenas de fría cerveza rubia, y enseguida huyó en un taxi.
Which means:
The giant stork drank eight glasses of whiskey, plus fifteen full mugs of cold pale ale, and escaped in a taxi right away.
This one, however, is missing the accents on the ú and the é. Long, verbose and surreal, like most things having to do with us Latins.
Now check out a pangram in English. As usual, a marvel of synthesis and no nonsense:
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
The reason I know this is because I was asked by a client to find out if there is one in Spanish. Thank God for the internet, is all I can say.
I was having cold sweats trying to come up with one myself.
This is a public service from moi to all art directors and graphic designers who are sometimes challenged and even annoyed at having to put words on their layouts.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sometimes, A Great Notion...

If anybody deserved a good zetz in the yapper, it was this man.
I, for one, feel deeply satisfied.
It is sad that the reports claim that Berlusconi's attacker has a history of mental problems. Not that violence is the answer to things, but in this case it seemed like an act of brilliant clarity. We don't know the reasons. They may be all the wrong reasons. But symbolically, the act is perfect.
What is funny about the video is the utter chaos after the zetz. The Italian secret service needs to get their act together. It is amazing to me that Berlusconi sits bleeding in the car, which can't move an inch because there are people not only surrounding it on all sides but even on top of it. Perhaps another fitting symbol of the disorganization and chaos that come from the very top.
What a country!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Here are my two Latkes

1. I'm making latkes (probably tomorrow). Because they are fried and yummy.

2. Jews behaving badly:

a). I read today that some Jews were having a conniption over Obama only having 500 of them to the White House Hannukah party (as opposed to Bush, who invited more). I'll tell you my conniption: there should be no White House Hannukah, or Christmas or Kwanzaa or Ramadan party. EVER. The family of the POTUS can celebrate Christmas as is their personal right. That's it. This is what Obama gets for not respecting separation of Church and State. And Jews, do chill out. The guy is a friend. In fact, a better friend than you think. Enough with the narishkeit.

b). David Brooks wrote a weirdo essay in the Times today about the historical background of Hanukkah. Turns out the Maccabees were a bunch of religious zealots fighting against assimilationist reformers. This information apparently was too much for the sensibilities of paranoid shtetl Jews on Facebook so that when people wanted to post it in Facebook, it was banned because they found the message abusive. You may or may not agree with Brooks, but it's not like he wrote Mein Kampf, so back off.

3. Happy Hannukah! Which is not the Jewish Christmas. In which gifts are not exchanged. In which the coins are made of chocolate. And there are yummy latkes. And jelly doughnuts.

Nobelesse Oblige

Whatever your feelings about Obama's Nobel, I invite you to read the speech. It is fascinating. Why did Obama get the Nobel Peace Prize so prematurely, while waging a stupid, inherited war and a necessary one?
Here's my theory: Europe is scared shitless of the threat of Islamic extremism outside its borders and in its midst. And with good reason. So, who you gonna call? Who is gonna help save your ass (again)? That's right: The good ole US of A, as described in the speech, "the world's sole military superpower". Which now has a rational, intelligent president everyone can love, who makes the world feel good about itself. Let's give him a preemptive Nobel Prize so he can help with the problems we are facing.
Model liberal countries like Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland, France, Germany, the U.K. are in a panic over the fundamentalist threat to what they consider their identities as nations, let alone the threat of terrorist violence in their streets. These countries are bastions of liberal social democracy, but they are not quite melting pots. Increasingly, the gulf between the culture of the immigrants and the prevailing European culture seems unbreachable. For immigrants, there is segregation and second class citizenry, despite all that tolerance and liberality. The super liberal Europeans don't take well to burkas, honor killings of women, irrational sensitivity to cartoons, etc. Most Muslims in Europe are moderate and benefit from democracy, liberal values and social programs, but those who don't, those who are alienated and despairing (and cynically benefit from European largesse, liberal values and social programs), are being recruited to wage Jihad (some of the men that perpetrated 9/11 came from Hamburg, Germany). They are irrational, evil and extraordinarily dangerous to the world as we know it. So while here we are not so convinced about the surge in Afghanistan, in Europe they must be thinking "the more, the merrier".

Here's Obama:

The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.
 Hack into and block their websites, is what I say.

 We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
 The global fight against Islamic extremism is such a case.
As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
I like this passage.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
I couldn't agree more, except it's not only America you are defending, it is human progress.
This brings me to a second point -- the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.

...And yet too often, these words are ignored. For some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are somehow Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation's development.

For some reason, fighting against religious extremism makes people weak in the knees. That is, instead of recognizing that Islamic extremism is the biggest human threat in the world today, people don't take it seriously enough. They think it's a bunch of crazy, exotic monkeys in caves. But if we read Jon Lee Anderson's frightening piece about Somalia in The New Yorker, or many other examples of Islamic fundamentalist depravity, where a doctor tending to sick people is threatened with death every day, people are killed for shaking the hands of foreigners, and women are forced to have genital mutilation without anesthetics, we must seriously stop our indifference and our naiveté. These people are a threat to humanity, just like the Nazis were a threat to humanity. The fact that we are not their direct victims (yet) doesn't make them any more tolerable.
Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty (HUH?). The ideals of liberty and self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced.

"Haltingly" being the operative word. I say the fight against Islamic extremism should be, de facto, the Third World War. So I sound like Dick Cheney. The difference between him and me is that I did not divert the human, capital and political resources to fight an unnecessary war and lost the opportunity to inflict serious damage on the real enemy when it was possible. Cheney should be hung by his balls, irresponsible asshole. many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower.
But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions -- not just treaties and declarations -- that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms... We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest -- because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.
And here, I beg to differ. Enlightened self-interest? What a crock of bull. Is this what made the US give money and arms to the Taliban? Support, at one time, Saddam Hussein? Invade Vietnam, support the Allende coup, etc, etc? The problem with America's self interest is that for the most part, it has not been very enlightened. It has either been stupidly ideological or plain greedy. This corny shit about other people's grandchildren living in prosperity should be matched with some real action. Even in our own country, we don't seem to care whether people fall into poverty.
And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend.
This, as lovely as it sounds and as true as it is on paper, remains to be seen.
Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, the determination, the staying power, to complete this work without something more -- and that's the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there's something irreducible that we all share.
 Love that phrase: "the continued expansion of our moral imagination". Exactly. Our human, moral, rational imagination. Not dogma, not religion. Ethics. Civilization.
And yet somehow, given the dizzying pace of globalization, the cultural leveling of modernity, it perhaps comes as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish in their particular identities -- their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we're moving backwards. We see it in the Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.
But in this day and age, those who wish to behave tribally should be confined to their own borders. They should not be coercing the Iron Age back to the modern world. It has taken us a lot to be where we are in terms of human rights, democracy, etc. There is no reason why we should lose it all to a bunch of benighted, ignorant, inhuman savages (and I mean all religious fundamentalists, not only the Muslim ones). 
And most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint -- no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or the Red Cross worker, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but I believe it's incompatible with the very purpose of faith -- for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Hear, hear, but they have attacked England, Spain, Bali, India, Pakistan, too. They are terrorizing the entire world.
Let us reach for the world that ought to be -- that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.
Why bring the divine into it? It's the live fuse that sparks all the tzuris. See? Religion and faith have no room in politics or nation building. Let's bring the human, the rational, the progressive, into it. The only way to deal with barbarism.
We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that -- for that is the story of human progress; that's the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.
Sounds great! When do we start?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Fela! and Race

I must confess, we did not stay for the second half of Fela!
Even despite the incredible dancing and the fantastic music, spiritedly played by Antibalas, there is something very unconvincing about the whole thing.
We saw Kevin Mambo in the title role, and not the other guy, who is supposed to be amazing. Mambo is a very good impersonator, a good actor, a fine singer, but he seems to lack energy. But I can't blame my lack of enthusiasm for Fela! exclusively on him.
I thoroughly hate when I am asked to yell back at the stage and participate. These things work only if the audience is already in a frenzy. It is the job of the people onstage to whip up the audience, otherwise the participation is forced and bogus.
I felt utterly uncomfortable (and I do not normally suffer from musical timidity). Making people shake their booties 5 minutes into the play without the requisite amount of excitement somehow reminded me of lame Disneyland entertainers, desperately fishing for sympathy.
Fela's music begs for dancing. Sitting augustly in a Broadway theater is not the right concept for it. As the review in New York Magazine mentioned, there should be a mosh pit in the front, where people can dance. This would be more honest than trying to teach white people to shake their asses and it would better honor the power of the music.
According to Joan Accocella's review in The New Yorker, Fela's story has been glossed over for the play. Well, I didn't know anything about his life coming in and I could tell that there was something overly sanitized and hokey about the proceedings. Fela! feels as authentic as a Hard Rock Café. It's the "Rent" syndrome: the lives of bohemian, revolutionary people who struggle at the edges of society do not translate well into expensive, crowd pleasing musicals for the bourgeoisie.
The writers of Fela! confuse feeble jokes at the expense of white people and little snippets of commie propaganda with provocation or rawness. They are not.
These things remind me of Disney and how they scrub clean all the rawness, the real humanity out of the original stories they adapt until they are unrecognizable.
The play is underwritten. It's a man on a stage reciting his life's story. There is no action, there is just telling, like in some sort of school pageant. I am sure that in the life of Fela Kuti there is enough material for an opera, let alone a Broadway play, but that's not what we get here. I know that people with unimpeachably authentic reputations are at the helm of this play. Bill T. Jones, Jay Z, among others, but they try too hard to please the audience. I don't go to the theater to be pleased. Or rather, I don't go to a show about the life of a genius, royal pain in the ass like Fela Kuti, to be pleased.

Which takes me to the venerable Mr. Mamet, who intends to provoke, as usual, with his new polemical play, simply called Race.
The first provocation, and this is very meta, is that according to Mamet plus ça change, President Obama or not. The issue of race is as thorny, if not worse, than ever. True.
The second provocation: here's a wealthy man, the milquetoasty Richard Thomas (John Boy from The Waltons, the casting has to be on purpose), who is accused of raping a black woman. Why, not too long ago, black men were lynched just for looking at a white girl, so this is a very interesting starting point.
Mamet just comes out and says it: we are baroquely entangled, paralyzed by centuries of prejudice, on both sides. What comes of this is people afraid to speak their minds, people getting tangled in obscure discourses of good intentions and political correctness (and ever blossoming resentments) into utter incomprehension.
James Spader, playing the head lawyer of a firm supposed to defend Mr. John Boy Walton, seems like a paragon of racial virtue when it comes to blacks, but listen to him talk about someone called Rosa González. Race is like the nine circles of hell, concentric and inescapable.
Spader is extraordinary. He is funny, has impeccable timing and is totally natural.  He rocks. The rest of the cast is excellent too, particularly David Alan Grier as Spader's partner.
However, the play seems a little sloppy. I don't expect Mamet, who is one of my favorite playwrights, to repeat the same joke in one play (it's a good joke the first time around only). This disappoints me. I also don't expect him to not dot all of his i's and cross all of his t's. Some of that happens in this play, which feels a little lazy.
We are in for a rollercoaster of ideas and paradoxes on race. Characters are not really developed. They are mouthpieces for provocative fodder. The audience is led to believe it will discover something and that something is forgotten and something else is brought up. Worse, Mamet does the David Alan Grier character a terrible disservice. After all that happens, what does this man think? He doesn't say. This is a major flaw of the play.
However, Race is brisk and fun and shocking without resorting to cheap jokes, and Mamet's direction is better than usual. Another director may have made more of character and that would have added some interesting human nuance, rather than excellent talking points.  Mamet's rhythms and idioms, to which we are now used to, could also benefit from more naturalistic direction. Still, Race is a fun, brisk play with plenty of good zingers. It's short and zippy and bracing. It made me ponder. It made me gasp. It didn't please me.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

War Mart

So we are sending 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, in a convenient, if totally unrealistic, mini-surge which is supposed to last one tidy year because we still are under the misguided impression that people who would not know democracy if it bit them in the ass, are suddenly clamoring for one, and we're the ones supposed to give it to them.
Just tell us that we need to kill us some terrorists. Don't start with the stupid values schmaltz. At this point, in the richest country on Earth where people have lost their jobs, their homes, are on food stamps and can't pay for medicine, who could possibly believe it?
Apparently, nobody in the Obama administration has gotten the memo that our military misadventures abroad tend to rather inflame the outrage and the membership ranks of potential terrorists. Merrily we roll along, getting deeper into quagmires of our own devising. You just cannot impose moderation on people; specially not with a military offensive.
Plus, these are people over there who stone women because they look funny at a guy.
I agree that we should pulverize Al Qaeda. I just don't know exactly how to do that without swelling their ranks. I guess that the long slog of financial aid (to deserving and responsible parties, if they exist), better living conditions and "hearts and minds" is inexplicably less desirable than sending American soldiers to fight unwinnable, interminable wars in medieval hellholes.

As I will not tire of repeating: BRING BACK THE DRAFT.
Everybody should pitch in for the sake of freedom, democracy and unbridled, selfish greed. You will see how soon we forget all about the terrorists.

Why do we insist on being the supernanny of the world? Why couldn't we live in peace, and enjoy our largesse to ourselves (or rather the fruits of our corruption) and be like Canada, Norway, or Finland, which don't mess with anybody and don't go where they are not welcome? Tom Friedman thinks we can't stop being the supernanny to the world (and a loopy one at that) because then China or Russia would take our place. Let em. They are so benighted and disorganized, but at least they don't futz around with values. They're just in it for the money.

What I want for Christmas

I don't believe in Christmas but for the sake of argument, I'm entitled to a wish list from Santa too.
1. No more public Christmas music starting after Thanksgiving.
I know this may make me highly unpopular, but no more Christmas music ever, if possible.
2. No more reality shows of any kind. If there is a God, It should ban them from the face of Earth. Total backlash.
3. A conviction of life in solitary confinement for the Salahis, preferably in Gitmo, with Christmas music blasting at all times.
4. An end to the new fashion of people dragging roller luggage all over the streets of Manhattan. Where's the airport, dudes?
5. My new HD flatscreen TV not to look slightly pixelated and everything yellow even if it's not a David Fincher movie (without me having to buy the right cable or a blueray whatever. Just by magic.)
6. The end of Dick Cheney (and Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin and Fox News, and...).
7. The end of human stupidity.
8. A public option for universal healthcare in this country. Yeah, right.
9. Me on the US Supreme Court, replacing Judge Scalia. Fast tracked, no need for law school. I get to sit next to Sonia.
10. Peace on Earth.

Dubai Bye

This article in The Independent appeared in April but it is very timely, now that this idiotic place has been reduced to a pile of useless rubble, with terrible ecological and human consequences. It is harrowing reading.
Dubai was a mirage in the desert, in the worst possible way.
Kind of like White Mischief all over again, a postcolonial colonialist nightmare of vulgarian Eurotrash losers abusing defenseless imported maids (or rather slaves), of people being sent to jail for what I am writing right now, of bogus luxury and wealth. Of cultures clashing in a godforsaken desert at 120 degrees in the shade. 
A petty, dictatorial, undemocratic hellhole.
Goodbye and good riddance.